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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Dancing with the Dead!

by Susan Fox

“Have fun!

That’s my husband happily ushering me out the door.

I am leaving the deadly dull aspects of my life as a housewife -- the dust, the dull monotony of paying bills, grocery shopping and ordering my son around -- all the heavy duties of keeping a house running.

I am going on an incredible mission that will require enormous physical stamina, a sense of adventure, the ability to laugh spontaneously, vocal cords to allow me to scream every so often and perseverance while my fibromyalgia symptoms flare up and my muscles spasm through the whole ordeal.

In short, I am going to the gym.

My husband knows I enjoy this activity. I think however he’d be surprised to know I am actually going to pray the whole time – while I am hopping around madly at Zumba!

I started praying this way because I needed reassurance. I am 61 years old. And though one of my Zumba instructors is 51, she looks like she’s 25, and more importantly she acts like she feels 25.

I, of course, look much younger than my 61 years. But I feel much older than 82. In fact, when I was only in my 50s I ran a church group in Arizona, and if I dropped something on the floor, my 82-year-old friend would lithely rush to pick it up for me. The whole group knew if Susan got on the floor, no one would ever be able to get her up again. 

It was funny the first time I showed up at Mat Pilates after I moved to Colorado. It took three people to get me off the mat. The instructor tried to convince me to leave the class.

But I am stubborn. Now I get on and off the mat by myself, and I’ve even learned to roll like a ball, and sit up. This amuses my husband to no end, as I practice at home. I hadn’t done that since I was a kid.

But I digress. I have been doing Zumba since 2010. I am an old hand at it, although new people seeing me in action for the first time often mistake me for a newbie, and try to offer me consolation by saying, “Don’t worry it gets easier!”

I had quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2010. By the way, this was the unreported “second miracle” of the new Saint Pope John XXIII. (I write this tongue in cheek) Some grumpy Catholics were shocked that Pope Francis canonized him without a second miracle, the normal process of canonization. How embarrassed I was when I realized I was the "second miracle!" And I hadn’t reported it!
Saint Pope John XXIII
My Mother treasured his autobiography:
"Journal of A Soul"

Let me make up for it now. I had intense stomach pain for 14 years, and hearing that Pope John XXIII had already dramatically healed a nun with stomach cancer, I prayed to him fervently for some years to get my stomach healed.

They did every test in the book on my gut, but they could find nothing wrong because there actually was nothing wrong with my stomach. One day I was sitting in the gut doctor’s office and I said very casually, “You know the pain has moved up from my throat to my jaw. Do you think I could have a heart problem?”

After we pulled the frustrated doctor off the floor where he had fainted, he immediately ordered a heart stress test. Then they threw me into the hospital lickety-split and did heart bypass surgery just in the nick of time. No more stomach pain and hello Zumba! Thank you Saint Pope John XXIII.

For the uninitiated, Zumba was invented in the 1990s when a Columbian aerobics instructor, Beto Perez, forgot his music tape for an aerobics class. He went to his car and got his Salsa music and improvised the class. The dance fitness class he invented came with him to the United States when he moved here in 2001. I am only one of about 14 million people who take weekly Zumba classes in over 140,000 locations across more than 185 countries.
Zumba Toning with Zumba Toning Sticks
Yes, I have a set.
I think it is more fun than regular exercise because we dance to music – hip-hop, samba, salsa, merengue and mambo. I really don’t know which is which. But I recognize different languages including some African when we are dancing. Squats and lunges are included. We do the lunges pretending to be Spanish matadors. Luckily, the bulls are invisible.  And we don’t really hold a red cape.

But from the first moment I stepped into my first Zumba class, I realized a certain irony.

I remembered my mother and my father’s mother at my age, and they never ever did anything like what I am doing now! Man, the most I ever saw my mother do was sit-ups in the living room!

The ladies who taught me adventure!
Tora, Dora and little Susan Cora
So I thought it would be very consoling for me to talk to them while I was hopping around madly in Zumba. Grandma’s name is Dora. Mom’s name is Tora and guess what! My Dad had a sense of humor. He gave me the middle name of Cora.

It’s easy to talk to Mom and Grandma exercising because they are as close as Jesus Himself. They are “sons of the resurrection” -- “dead” but alive in Christ. They have joined a group called the Communion of Saints. Actually, I belong to the same club. It means “The unity in Christ of all the redeemed, those on earth and those who have died.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church  CCC)

“Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others...We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head...Therefore the riches of the Church are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments. As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods she has received necessarily become a common fund.” (CCC #947)

It’s called the Treasury of the Saints, and that’s how Saint Pope John XXIII stopped my stomach pain with heart surgery. (By the way, in reality this “miracle” did not constitute a physical healing, and so would not be accepted by the Church. But it was a miracle to me! I suffered 14 years of intense pain because the doctors couldn’t diagnose my condition. The miracle was information! We finally found out what was needed to fix me for good.)

The pope withdrew the merits of his own life and those of countless other people who united their suffering with that of Jesus Christ from the Treasury of the Saints.  And he applied those merits to my situation.  God smiled. I was healed.

“The term ‘communion of saints’ therefore has two closely linked meanings: communion in ‘holy things’ and ‘among holy persons.’” (CCC# 948)

It is about the communion among holy persons that I write now. I have always had a great affection for the holy souls for whom I always pray. Once, I visited a cemetery in Finland. The sun was setting. The grass was soft, fulsome green under the shade trees, and there was a little river running through it. No one was around. A sense of joy came over me, and I started skipping through the cemetery, singing, “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me...” That was a popular song during World War II, but in Finland?

So here we go. I have just entered Studio #1 at Greenwood Athletic Club. Susan Cora attempts to get into the groove. Here comes Tora and Dora. Olé! Presenting ....The Three Musketoras!

Dora: “You are late again.”
Susan Cora: “Yes, Grandma.”
Dora: “How come you don’t move as fast as the girl in front of you?”
Susan Cora: “Grandma, she moves faster than the instructor. Those little tails on her rear end are swinging back and forth -- quick as lightening.”
Dora: “Can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like that. Is that a new fashion?”
Susan Cora: “It’s Zumba style clothing. We move our rear end so much that having little tails on each cheek highlights our movements. It is like an exclamation point at the end of a well-written sentence.”
Dora: “Why don’t you have little exclamation points  on your rear end?”
Susan Cora: “I hate to shop.”
Tora: “We never had anything like that when we were young. I don’t think anyone expected women to exercise this vigorously in my day. Oh my, the cats have started howling already.”
Cat cries penetrate Susan’s earplugs. They are dancing to the Zumba song "Chucucha."
Susan Cora: “Cha Cha Cha.”
Tora: “What?”
Susan Cora: “I am just singing along, Mom. We have to rub our hands together in the air, move in a circle while the cat cries, and the singer purrs ‘Cha, cha, cha.’ Whoops, I am facing a room of 35 women, and they are supposed to be seeing my back.”
Tora: “You were never coordinated as a child either.”
Susan Cora: “Thanks. Mom.”
Gobble, gobble, gobble...
Dora: “Susan, what is that gobbling?”
Susan Cora: “I think we are pretending to be turkeys? We have to “gobble” as we turn left in rapid tiny steps...”
Susan Cora: “I love this move. We are pushing the gnomes heads down.”
Tora: “What gnomes?”
Susan Cora: “The short make-believe gnomes. Now we are circling with our skinny invisible dance partner, flinging our right arm back and then throwing something down. I always think of this move as ‘throwing away the tobacco.’”
This elicited no response from the puzzled mother and grandmother.
Dora: “Look at that! They are rubbing their gorgeous long hair – even the ones with short hair. That’s a gesture we used when we were young.”
Tora: “Yes, but we did it more slowly and it was a lot more seductive that way.”
Dora: “I honestly think they are just trying to exercise. There aren’t any men in this class except for the instructor. He is very pleasant on the eyes.”
Susan Cora: “Give glory to God, Grandma.  Are you remembering the days when you rocked on the porch with your beaux?”
Dora: “Yes, honey. Those were the days.”
Susan Cora: “Did you rock on the porch with anyone other than Grandpa? “
Dora, flustered: “What a question! Your grandfather was a very handsome man.”
Susan Cora, sighs: “Yes all my cousins are absolutely drop dead gorgeous.”
Dora: “Well they have some of my looks too.”
Susan Cora: “Yes, thank God I inherited some of your looks!”
Tora: “The women in my family are pretty too.”
No one responded to that.
Dora: “So have you tried showing your husband your Zumba moves?”
Susan Cora: “Yes, Grandma.”
Tora: “What happened.”
Susan Cora: “He lay on the bed and laughed until tears came out of his eyes.”
Tora: “Oh, I am so sorry, dear.”
Susan Cora, laughing: “Not at all, Mom. He wasn’t laughing at me. He was laughing with me. He said to me, ‘Oh my, how you must laugh in that class!’”
Tora: “You do laugh a lot here. But I really can’t believe you got out of your chair to do it. You spent your whole childhood in a chair with a real cat reading a book.”
Susan Cora: “You were surprised when I started gardening as well. Remember, I brought some of the herbs I raised to the hospital when you were dying. And though you were blind and missing one leg, you smelled them with such intense pleasure. It was like they contained all delight -- the most beautiful scent on earth.  It was the way one might have imagined our first mother, Eve, smelling the flowers in the Garden of Eden before the snake showed up and ruined everything.”
Tora: “We are supposed to sanctify our senses, not suppress them. For me, that was one of the delights of becoming Catholic. I could sincerely enjoy a martini. It wasn’t wrong. Everything in moderation.”
Susan Cora, reflectively: “I guess I am doing that now.”
Tora: “You are sanctifying your senses?”
Susan Cora: “No, God is. But I am finding that enjoying life is not evil. In fact, life is good.”
Tora: "So is that the purpose of this post?"
Susan Cora: "Yes, God definitely doe not rain on our parade. He makes life more interesting."
Tora: "Here too, daughter."

Much of that conversation was based on my memories of my mother and grandmother. But I was taken aback when another person entered our trio in reality. We were given a fourth Musketora!
Four Musketoras! Oops, I mean Musketeers
My cousin Connie, who was Tora’s niece and Dora’s granddaughter died on March 21, 2014. She was one of my favorite drop-dead gorgeous cousins. 

On March 22, I was in Aqua Zumba in the lovely in-door pool at my gym with Mom and Grandma having our usual silly conversation. One wall is all glass. And in the winter, we can watch the snow come down behind the moving figures of our instructors.

Suddenly, I realized Connie was there. It wasn’t a vision. I simply sensed her with the eyes of my soul.  She was unaware of my presence and was staring at the light from the big window. Or perhaps it was the Light from the New Heaven and the New Earth?

“They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 22: 4-5)

There was funny writing on Connie’s forehead. I didn’t realize that until now. Regardless, my husband and I rejoiced when I got home that day. That Connie was with Mom and Grandma was a very good sign.

Susan Cora: “Welcome to the Club, Cousin. Rest in Peace. Visit me at the gym when you can. Oh, and don’t sit under the apple tree…"
 Zumba Video. I chose this one because they are dressed modestly, are pretty darn good at the moves, and they are dancing to the song where we get the gobble, gobble sounds, and the cat crying. The song is called  "Chucucha." I dare you to watch it without laughing!
Zumba with Erika dancing to song "Chucucha"


  1. Hi, Susan.
    I just wanted to say that I too really appreciate the fact that I can have a conversation with some of my departed friends and family who are in the communion of saints, or, I like the term from the book of Hebrews, "great cloud of witnesses."
    I have been comforted, encouraged, and more by something I saw, felt or heard from one of them, often at a time when I was in a low point of my life.
    As the vast majority of my circle of friends and family are not Orthodox or Catholic, it is hard to explain, so I tend to keep it private, like the Mother of God who "Pondered all these things in her heart."

    Anyway, just wanted to thank you for your cool, somewhat humorous, definitely poignant blog.


  2. Dearest Anonymous, Yes, the Great Cloud of Witnesses have encouraged me as well in many rough points in my life. Life is such a great adventure and it leads to eternal life. Eternal LIfe is the ultimate ADVENTURE! God bless you. Susan Fox